x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pro League: Al Ain crowned champions amid controversy

Assured of the title the Garden City, however, had to labour hard for a 2-1 win over Al Nasr with Mascara red-carded in crucial moments.

Cosmin Olaroiu wants to bolster his defence for next season. Pawan Singh / The National
Cosmin Olaroiu wants to bolster his defence for next season. Pawan Singh / The National

AL AIN // Although not at full capacity, the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium still thrives on evenings like this. Heaving under the strain of continuous voice, long before kick-off the stands were a concoction of purple and white flags fluttering in the May breeze, kanduras decorated with scarves proclaiming Al Ain the 2012/13 Pro League champions.

Arabic verse, provided by an all-Emirati ensemble, wafted in from outside the arena's walls, mobile phones capturing the moment to be shared for some time to come. The party had come to the Garden City.

"We are here to salute our heroes," said a teenage fan pre-match, having emerged from a group of excited friends to speak to the sweating reporter wielding a voice recorder.

His name? "Omar … Abdulrahman." It elicited a roar from his comrades, although in these parts it seemed a perfectly plausible moniker. Simply a coincidence, perhaps.

"We are the best team in the UAE," said another, who was slightly more reluctant to offer his identity. Asamoah Gyan, maybe?

While his details remain a source of debate, his sentiments do not. Al Ain are by a stretch the country's finest football team, and their supporters had come to celebrate that fact.

Indeed, an 11th top-flight title was guaranteed as far back as Round 22, but here against Al Nasr, in the denouement to a supreme domestic season, the champions' coronation was complete with a 2-1 victory.

"I am very satisfied with the commitment of the players this season in all competitions," said Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach. "I thank them all. I'm also proud of Al Ain's fans, who have been great. They are the most distinguished members of our team."

"It's a great achievement, two league titles in a row and everyone's happy, not just me," added the bona fide Gyan. "I'd like to congratulate the team, the staff and the players as everybody did a great job this year.

It feels a tad trivial to unravel the particulars of the contest, although Nasr threatened to stain the festivities when they took an eighth-minute lead through Bruno Correa, the Brazilian striker.

However, the hosts finally crept back into the match just after the hour, thanks to a thunderbolt from Jires Kembo-Ekoko, before his strike partner, Gyan, slotted home a spot-kick five minutes from time.

It surely constituted one of the most dubiously awarded penalties of the campaign and Giuseppe Mascara, the Nasr midfielder, was dismissed for his protestations.

In truth, the result mattered little, for once the final whistle had sounded the scoreboard presiding over proceedings simply exclaimed: "Al Ain - Champions".


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